The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

For Sanders supporters still packing rallies, it’s about the experience, not the math

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addressed a crowd of more than 6,600 in Baltimore last month. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

SANTA BARBARA — Raymok Ketema is pretty sure Bernie Sanders won’t win the Democratic presidential nomination. She knows Hillary Clinton’s delegate lead is virtually insurmountable and that even a Sanders victory in the California primary on June 7 probably won’t be enough to propel him to the top of the party’s ticket.

Yet the 22-year-old University of California at Santa Barbara student was in line at 7 a.m. on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend to see her candidate speak in person. It was as if her favorite band were on tour one last time; she wasn’t about to miss her final chance to see a live show.

“That’s kind of how I see it,” Ketema said. “I’m a realist. So it’s kind of the band thing. He’s a great speaker. It’s worth it. It’s an experience. This is the first time I’ve ever wanted to get involved in politics.”

As she spoke, Ketema wasn’t even close to the front of the line at Santa Barbara City College, where 6,000 people turned out for the first of Sanders’s three California campaign stops on Saturday. Up and down the queue in the early hours of a holiday weekend when many Americans are sleeping in and cooking out, backers of the Vermont senator said they got up to see him while they still can — before the day comes when he can no longer delay what many see as the inevitable.

“I was a [George] McGovern guy a long time ago, so it’s kind of deja vu for me,” said Bier Smith, 63. “I dropped out of school, did that whole thing. So this is it. This is fun.”

A couple hours later, Sanders’s warm-up speakers included a man roughly 40 years younger than Smith who said he had dropped out of college to volunteer for the Sanders campaign.

Back in line, Conlin Henderson, 22, said he would normally still be in bed at this hour on a weekend but couldn’t pass up a chance to attend a Sanders rally.

“I just wanted to get the opportunity to see him live,” said Henderson, who attended Santa Barbara City College and plans to transfer to another school in the fall. “I’ve seen all the videos, read all the articles.”

Beside him was Alex San Filippo, also 22, who said he was holding on to a sliver of hope that superdelegates who have declared their support for Clinton might be convinced to change their minds when they see the unwavering enthusiasm of Sanders voters, like him.

Leon Quarles, 21, who traveled some 300 miles from Oakland, said he, too, is clinging to the hope that Sanders might pull off a miraculous comeback. But that’s not what motivated him to come out on Saturday morning. He said political odds shouldn’t determine whether you show up for your candidate or not.

“If you believe in him, you’re obviously going to go,” Quarles said.